5 Things to Do When the Boss Is Wrong

Last Updated Aug 18, 2010 3:46 PM EDT

So, it turns out that Apple knew about the antenna problems with the new Iphone, but CEO Steve Jobs liked the design. I don't presume to know what went on internally at Apple, but I do know this: when a HIPPO (Highest Paid Person's Opinion) appears, prepared to be trampled. I do have a few tips for avoiding the trampling. Here are 5 steps when a HIPPO threatens your project:

  1. Say, "Great idea Boss! We'll test it." This comes directly from Jim Sterne who introduced the term to me through my BNET colleague, Sean Silverman. This gives you some time.
  2. Test with an Open Mind. So, it turns out that some of those people at the top of the food chain got there because they are smart. Just because it seems stupid to you, doesn't mean it's stupid. So, test the HIPPO's idea. You may be surprised. But, if you're not and it's a bad, bad, bad idea then...
  3. Document, Document, Document. A casual stop by the CEOs office to say, "So, Sally, we looked into that rubber-snake-designer-jeans idea you had and, well, nobody likes it. See you later!" will not fly. Actual numbers will. Focus group data that says, "Gee this antenna problem is a BIG DEAL" is much more convincing. Make sure you have your data and present it professionally. But if the HIPPO still wants this solution then...
  4. Don't Whine, Problem Solve. In my experience, HIPPOs want what they want, dang it, and sometimes they just won't listen. So, figure out how to solve the problem. So, you've tested it and the results show problems. It's time to problem solve. CEO and BNET writer Margaret Heffernan has a rule that all complaints must come with a solution. So, don't complain. Come up with a solution and be prepared to present all the costs involved in the solution.
  5. Get on board. Unless the HIPPO's idea is illegal or immoral (in which case you should blow the whistle), you've made your case and now you need to get on board. You're being paid to work for the HIPPO, so after you've done your best, you need to do what he or she wants. I know it's unpleasant, but it's the reality. If it's just so terrible that you can't support it, then it's time to leave the company.
Following these steps can often stop the stampede--or at least lessen the impact. Just be prepared whenever a HIPPO walks into the room.
Photo by Belgianchocolate, Flickr cc 2.0

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